"The idea is that these violations are supposed to be fixed properly, but there is no supervision," Berns says. So, to avoid getting cited or sued, landlords might cover small cracks with plaster or putty and sand the walls, thereby releasing lead-paint dust and contaminating the entire room.
Ryan says that the alliance is not demanding total lead abatement, but "Understanding Title X," an alliance publication, describes the reduction of lead hazards as an "interim measure" and implies that the removal of lead paint should be the nation's ultimate goal. Ellen Silbergeld, a toxicologist at the University of Maryland, the chair of the EPA's National Policy Committee on Lead, and a board member of the alliance, says that although the removal of lead paint may in some instances seem impractical, it can be necessary at times to solve the problem. "Because lead poisoning is so poorly reversed by treatment and because it is so serious, we have to think about primary prevention," she says. Silbergeld's proposal to tax lead by the pound to pay for national abatement efforts left the lead industry fuming and the lead-abatement industry cheering. Olin Jennings, a management consultant in Columbia, New Jersey, who specializes in the lead-abatement industry, predicts that its market will grow rapidly, propelled by Title X and resulting litigation. In a 1991 business analysis he reported that the total potential market for contracting and testing services would hover at $600 billion. But Jennings went on to warn that
Asbestos abatement contractors and consultants have been entering the market as an "easy" diversification out of the troubled asbestos market. Intense competition from unqualified and untrained painting and interior remodeling contractors is also expected. . . . Most home owners will not be able to distinguish one consultant or contractor from another and are expected to purchase on price.
Indeed, studies have pointed to lead-paint abatement as a major cause of lead poisoning. In a study published in the November, 1991, issue of Pediatrics, Yona Amitai, a physician who was then in the division of pharmacology and toxicology at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, reported that "deleading resulted in a significant, albeit transient, increase in blood lead levels." Children in the study averaged 36.4 micrograms per deciliter before deleading took place, and 42.1 micrograms while deleading took place. Blood-lead levels increased as much as 200 percent during deleading, with the result that forty-two of the 114 children had to be chelated--that is, had to have lead chemically flushed from their blood.
Mark Farfel, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health and the director of the lead-abatement program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, says that improperly done lead-paint abatement can force tenfold to hundredfold transient increases in lead-dust levels and a subsequent spike in blood-lead levels. "According to Maryland state law, if owners control lead hazards in their houses they get limited liability in court," he says. "However, the package of [abatement] procedures recommended by the state has not yet been proven effective scientifically." Farfel is currently doing a study to see what effect, if any, various levels of abatement will have on children's blood-lead levels. Meanwhile, despite rhetoric to the contrary, there is little evidence that the removal of lead paint will significantly reduce the incidence of lead poisoning in children. Some experts argue that in fact lead-paint abatement is not even the most important step to take to continue solving the nation's problem, and that its pursuit supports the ideological goal of a "lead-free America" more than it promotes public health.
IT is not lead paint per se but lead dust that causes the bulk of lead exposure in human beings. Some children gnaw on porch rails and windowsills, swallowing paint chips as they chew, but most kids get their lead from the steady ingestion of leaded dust carried on their fingers and hands. Lead gets into dust not only from interior paint but also from deteriorating exterior paint and from soil polluted with decades of leaded-gasoline emissions. Removing interior lead paint does nothing to prevent lead exposure from either of these other sources.